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Chickens & Winter Egg Laying and Lighting

Chickens and Winter Egg Laying & Lighting

 

 

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It’s a question commonly asked among chicken owners; especially around this time of year. Why aren’t my chickens laying? Do they need light in the winter?

 

It’s common for people to give their chickens light in the winter, or even all year round. Some chicken-owners aren’t so sure. Here’s a look at both sides to help you make a decision.

 

~Yes- it helps increase egg production!~

 

If you especially care about production, light is the way to go. There are many studies that have proven that, in almost every case, when light is added there is a significant increase in egg production. Chickens are ‘told’ to produce eggs by their endocrine system, a system of different glands and organs that produce hormones.  As the daylight hours shorten in winter, changes in these hormones shut down egg production. Adding additional light triggers the endocrine system into action, causing them to produce more eggs. Continuously giving chickens light in the winter fools their bodies into thinking that the days aren’t getting shorter at all.

 

Why do chickens stop laying in the winter?

Most chickens produce eggs at the fastest rate when there is a better chance their offspring will survive to maturity. Chicks clearly would not survive as well in cold weather. For a chicken, that gives them no reason to lay eggs in the winter, so their bodies automatically shut off egg laying for the colder months.

 

Installing the light (how and when)

If you have decided to install a light, please keep in mind that lights can also be potential fire hazards. Don’t put them where the chickens can knock them down. This may create a fire that could burn down the coop and the chickens.

 

With that said, if you are only installing a light for the winter, it can actually be a good idea to get one that also gives off heat, depending on your climate. Chickens in warmer areas can be fine without heat lamps, although they may be helpful in colder climates or for younger birds.  

 

You can either leave the light on 24/7 to provide constant warmth and light, or you can install a timed light. If you choose to use a timed light, you want to ensure that your chicken gets 14 hours of total light. It’s usually advised to give them the light in the early  morning hours. If you do choose to let it come on at night, the main side effect may be that you have more afternoon layers.

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An example of a well secured red light

 

Red or White Light?

In general it is advised to use red light, but there are arguments that either work. Red light is more soothing for a chicken, and helps allow them to sleep. As you could imagine, chickens probably won’t want a bright white light shining on them, especially if you are leaving it on all day/night. I’ll discuss additional advantages of red light in the next section.

 

Benefits of Using Red Light

There are several studies that show additional benefits of using red light. In general it is said to reduce cannibalism, be calming to the chickens, and reduce pecking problems.

This is one article I found particularly interesting on red light:

What happens when chickens see red?

“A company* that markets red contact lenses for chickens (at 20 cents a pair), points to medical studies showing that chickens wearing red-tinted contact lenses behave differently from birds that don't. They eat less, produce more and don't fight as much. This decreases aggressive tendencies and birds are less likely to peck at each other causing injury. A spokesman said the lenses will improve world egg-laying productivity by $600 million a year.

(Perhaps everything looks red and they cannot distinguish combs, wattles, or blood. Or ...perhaps the chickens are happier because they're viewing the world through rose colored glasses.)” http://www.colormatters.com/color-and-vision/color-and-vision-matters

 

While this study may seem a little far-fetched, red can make an impact in egg laying. Several other credible chicken books also mention the benefits of red light.

 

Note: If you do choose to use a red light, or even if you choose white, it is advised not to switch back and forth. This can further stress out the chickens and lead to drops in egg production.

 

Now that we’ve covered the advantages of using lighting, let’s look at the negative arguments of the issue.

 

~No- let nature take its course!~

 

 

Why should we add artificial light?

 

Most chicken owners aren’t running commercial operations. If all you really want is production, production, production, then it may make sense to add additional lighting, but if your chickens are pets, why not just let nature take its course?

 

Chickens deserve (and need) a rest

Let’s face it: chickens aren’t egg machines. Egg laying is stressful on a chicken, and it takes a lot of work for chickens to pump out eggs daily. Even humans get time off from their jobs; why not chickens? Winter is a chicken’s time to naturally shut down and rest from laying eggs all summer long. Don’t they deserve a break?

 

Providing additional light is taxing in the long run

If you force a bird to lay during the cold months by triggering her endocrine system with extra light, you can also shorten her laying longevity. To quote poultrykeeper.com:

“Since a hen is born with all of the eggs she can produce in her life already inside her, if you intend to keep your hens for their entire life then you aren't gaining anything in the long run by providing extra light for them, but you will be able to get a supply of eggs during the winter months.”

 

The article goes on to talk about the potential health hazards of forcing your chickens to lay during the winter, especially if you are forcing them to lay when they really need to rest, for example when they are molting.

 

While many people advise using lights, there is also a general acknowledgment that this can actually be harmful for their health, and stop them laying sooner. You can use artificial light and get a burst of eggs for a short amount of time, or let nature take its course, and allow the chicken to lay naturally throughout her life. For example, I have a seven year old red star that has never had artificial light, and she still lays. As a whole, lighting can actually have a negative impact in the long run for your flock. Unless you only care about production, you may have healthier chickens by letting them lay naturally.

 

As long as you have healthy, happy chickens, you should still get some eggs in the winter. Make sure to also ensure that your chickens are mite and worm free, as these can lead to drops in egg laying as well. If you care especially about getting eggs in the winter, but don’t want to use lighting, you can also look into getting some more winter hardy breeds that are known to lay better, such as the Salmon Faverolle and Easter Egger.

 

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In conclusion, it’s really your decision. Are you raising birds mainly for production, or keeping them as a flock of fluffy pets? Hopefully you’ll be able to make the perfect decision for your individual flock. I hope this article has helped you with that decision.

 

 

NOTE: (credit/thanks to gickelvolk)

 

Should you decide to use a light BE CAREFUL OF THE LIGHT YOU CHOOSE!!!
"Industrial Duty" and "Break-Free" bulbs have a TOXIC coating (generally a Teflon) on them to prevent shattering upon breakage. The bulb emits a gas from the coating and it is DEADLY to poultry.

 

Comments (55)

I enjoyed reading your article. Very well written and you've made the decision of extra lighting easy for me.
Thank you, I'm glad it was helpful :)
Regarding "With that said, if you are only installing a light for the winter, it can actually be a good idea to get one that also gives off heat, as long as you secure it. This will give your chicken additional lighting and heating for the cold months."
This might need some qualification. Chickens in Florida would NEVER need winter heat. Also, there are threads discussing heating one's coop and the general feeling is that if you heat the coop, the birds won't develop a proper winter coat for their area. A power failure on a very cold day could be a big problem. Plus, many well feathered chickens (apparently, I don't yet have experience) like to go out even when it is cold, but they don't have a coat on the hook by the door so if they have been heated and haven't grown a proper coat for the weather they may not go out or if they do, they won't be adequately protected.
Good point, and I understand what you mean about heating. We live in Texas, so my chickens never need heating either. I will edit that paragraph for more clarification.
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My husband and I were just discussing this topic this morning. While we have 28 chickens, we are not operating an egg business so we have decided to let nature take it's course.
We decided against heat/light in the otherwise draft free and warmer coop (than outside)... partially because of the impracticality of running power out to the coop, and partially because we have a rooster that crows at first light. We modified his crowing schedule by covering the one window it had to keep morning light out, and stop him from starting that at 4:30am; now he starts around 6am. I love my big red "canary" anyway. :)
Super article....my girls have a light on them to help encourage laying during the winter. There are 13 girls and they are averaging about 10 eggs per day! We decided to keep a light on them because all egg money that is collected goes to the "gentle doctor" fund at our best friends vet clinic.....this money goes to helping dogs and cats that are less fortunate. When the hens are done laying, they are simply let out to pasture on over 10 acres of beautiful Michigan land! Where they live out the rest of their lives!
Very well done. Has anyone ever tried "splitting the difference" for lack of a better phrase and providing light in the winter but only in the morning? Will this help pump up production a little bit but not so much as to stress them?
Great Article! My bantams (d'Uccles and d'Anvers mostly) are employed as my soil working crew, so eggs are a side benefit. So, I've always let nature take its course and let the chickens decide when to lay. I usually see egg production cease in late November and start up again in mid-February (I'm in Southern Oregon). However, I am amazed to see this winter that not only have my adult hens continued laying, but my pullets hatched in July-August started laying in the last few weeks instead of waiting until Spring as I assumed they would. I'm well stocked with eggs right now!
I used to have an organic poultry farm and we used to "split the difference" as chicken newbie put it. We had the light come on at 4:30 every morning. It was turned off when the sun came up and then went back on when the sun set before 6:30pm. That gives 14 hours of light. We used regular old-style light bulbs in the coops. Actually, the old style bulbs do give off a tiny bit of heat and in the cold weather, you notice it, but not enough that the birds don't aclimate.
I have also found that heating a coup can be disasterous if there is a power failure. The chickens don't become acclimated to the cold and therefore just want to hang out in the coup. If the power goes out, no heat, and frozen birds. This also means trying to clean coops out in the dead of winter (we used to use the deep litter method and didn't clean out until spring). Staying "cooped up" isn't healthy---too much humidity in the coop and build up of feces, no exercise.
The only time we ever use a heat lamp in a coop is if we are transitioning chicks from the brooder to the outside in the winter. Or, if there is some illness or stressors on birds and I want to give them some warmth for a short time to get better. But it still would be a fairly cool coop, not something we ourselves would be comfortable staying in for the night! LOL
Great article; though I am a firm believer in working "with" mother nature rather than against her, and am a firm believer in not using artificial light to encourage laying past their "regular" season, I appreciate that you explained both sides of this issue, which can definitely be a hot topic.
This is really helpful for a first time chicken owner!
I have light for heat in our coop. It has been a very cold winter in NW CO. My egg production dropped even with light, is this normal? My hens were all molting beginning of winter (first molt) and are just now getting back their feathers. I have been suspecting the cold (and molting) may be part of the drop in production, they have been eating more too and I think they are just working hard to keep warm. Waiting till spring to make any real conclusion about what's going on.
Also have been wrestling with this debate as a first time chicken owner. It can get pretty cold here, so the jury is still out! But if we do decide to keep the light, the research for the 'red' light can't be ignored! Just would like to do what's best. Love's 'em we do!!!
Lots of great information and plenty to think about. Our chickens are in a sectioned off area of the barn. We have people that purchase our eggs on a weekly basis so we try to keep production up. They free range all summer and then in the fall we put them in for the winter. Once we see production is dropping to below what we require for our regular egg buyers we put the lights on. We use 2 energy efficient light bulbs on a timer and have a heat lamp over the metal waterer to keep the water from freezing. We just put the lights on 2 weeks ago and our production has doubled.
I have a 75W red heat lamp in my coop. 3 of 5 hens (Cornish) are currently laying (other 2 EEs have not started yet). 2 of the 3 layers are nearly everyday egg layers, while the third hen is an every other day or so layer. I typically get one egg in the morning and one (or two) in the afternoon. The hit or miss hen likes to sit on the eggs laid by the other girls if she visits the coop during the day.
I live in SE Virginia but have a heat lamp nonetheless. The coldest so far this season was 28F overnight, however avg night temps are 40-45F. I have a timer activate the lamp from dusk to dawn. If the temp is slated to be above 50F overnight, I typically turn off the timer and let them chill naturally.
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